Coffee and Clippings: Nine players expected to improve in 2014

Baseball Prospectus (@baseballprotalks about nine players they expect to improve in 2014…

1. Phil Hughes
Getting out of the Bronx should be a big help to Hughes, who has the ingredients to be a consistent middle-of-the-rotation starter but has never been able to put it all together. He’s a strike-thrower with a good fastball (when he spots it), has a plus slider he developed out of nowhere in mid-2012, and doesn’t walk many guys. His two main problems are putting guys away when he’s ahead in the count and giving up the long ball.

Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) of ESPN writes that the union has concerns over new rules…

Baseball’s new collision rules haven’t yet affected a game. But union chief Tony Clark said Wednesday the players’ union is “remarkably concerned” about the impact of the new rules.

“Moving forward we’re going to have to pay attention to what happens,” Clark said after meeting with Philadelphia Phillies players. “I think the title of the press release said ‘experimental.’ That’s not an accidental word.”

Since the rules were announced Monday, a number of players have expressed concerns about their impact. Clark said players have been told to let the union know immediately if they see something they believe violates the spirit of the rule or appears to change the game in some fundamental way.

MLB Brownie Points looks at everything Pedro Martinez said on the first day at Red Sox camp…

Pedro Martinez is one of the few former Red Sox players who can great a buzz simply by arriving at camp. Today was his first day and he talked about a bunch of different stuff. Here is a sampling:

On going into the Red Sox Hall of Fame:  “To me, it’s a great honor to actually go into the Red Sox Hall of Fame. I don’t have enough words to thank the organization and I’m extremely proud to have been chosen to go into the hall of fame.

Jeff Sullivan (@based_ball) of FanGraphs breaks down the most and least improved teams for 2014…

I’ll spoil something right away — of course, a phenomenon you’re going to notice is regression to the mean. Last year’s worst teams ought to do better. Last year’s best teams ought to do worse. The standings can sometimes exaggerate the real spread of talent, and over a bigger sample, you expect teams to play closer to average. The lists you’re going to see aren’t just in order of 2013 record, but there’s a definite correlation.

Scott Lauber (@ScottLauber) of the Boston Herald writes that Drake Britton has learned his lesson from his arrest last season…

But before Britton was able to achieve the redemption that came with his first call-up and the acceleration of his lifelong dream of pitching in the big leagues, he needed to admit his brush with the law may have been symptomatic of deeper troubles, namely a feeling that he was invincible, that nothing could touch him or the powerful left arm that prompted the Red Sox to draft him out of Tomball (Texas) High in 2007.

“That whole scenario, what happened and everything that came out of it, it saved my life,” Britton said yesterday. “It was a very big eye-opener about where my priorities were. It changed some things in my life.”

Tim Britton (@TimBritton) of the Providence Journal writes that the Red Sox have no shortage of pitchers in their farm system…

It’s an early morning at JetBlue Park, and the future of the Red Sox is gathered toward the right end of the team’s clubhouse.

The row of lockers over here overflows with potential. All the way at the end is Anthony Ranaudo. Two down is Henry Owens, then Allen Webster and Brandon Workman and Drake Britton. Matt Barnes is two down from that, and Rubby De La Rosa another two.

The chairs collect around Webster and Workman, the congregation of young arms illustrating that they sure seem to be the kind of close friends they all say they are.

John Harper (@NYDNHarper) of the NY Daily News talks about Sandy Alderson telling Mets executives and personnel that the Mets can win 90 games…

At a staff meeting a couple of days ago, Sandy Alderson told Mets executives and baseball personnel that he strongly believes that the ballclub can and maybe even should win 90 games this season.

Yes, 90.

And, according to people who were in the room, after Alderson’s decree prompted discussion about how to best maximize the Mets’ assets, owner Fred Wilpon chimed in at one point with his own pointed assessment.

Also from the NY Daily News, Kristie Ackert (@AckertNYDN) reports that Mets pitcher, Jon Niese, has mentioned pain in his arm and will be scheduled for an MRI…

It seems to have become a sign of spring here. The pitchers and position players report, the on-field drills and bullpen sessions begin and then there is the first Mets MRI of the season.

Starting pitcher Jon Niese was sent back to New York on Wednesday to have the test on his left shoulder. The lefty had been feeling pain in his triceps muscle and described his arm as “dead” after throwing live batting practice this week, Terry Collins said.

Matt Porter (@mattyports) of the Palm Beach Post writes that Roger Clemens won’t make a Pete Rose type play for the Hall of Fame…

If you’re backslapping and glad-handing him on the practice green of a charity tournament at a sun-splashed golf course, you’ll get Roger Clemens.

Ask him about Cooperstown, and you see a flash of The Rocket.

Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) of the LA Times talks about Josh Hamilton being put on crutches after straining his calf…

So much for Josh Hamilton papering over the memory of a disappointing season with a monster spring training.

The Angels open Cactus League play Friday, but it could be weeks before their left fielder joins the lineup. On Tuesday, he strained his left calf muscle during a baserunning drill and left the clubhouse on crutches.

Hamilton said he suffered the injury as he took a lead off first base and then planted his left foot to run. He said he would be on crutches for about two days while the spasm eases in his left leg.

Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) of the Seattle Times writes that Robinson Cano targets Justin Smoak’s swing…

They had reasonable excuse to leave immediately after the workout ended on Wednesday. With their first spring-training game scheduled on Thursday, it was the last free afternoon for Mariners players in quite a while.

But as the bulk of the players left in mass exodus following team conditioning, Robinson Cano and Justin Smoak grabbed their bats and headed toward home plate.

Their day wasn’t done.

Bernie Miklasz (@miklasz) of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch talks about trusting the Cardinals and injuries…

Or, at the very least, keep expectations low.

I can’t count how many times I’ve been fooled by the Cardinals’ optimistic medical forecasts and updates. And I blame myself for that. It’s my fault. Those of you who wonder why I fall for this every time … well, I don’t have a good answer for you.

It’s happened twice already this year.

Evan Grant (@Evan_P_Grant) of the Dallas Morning News talks about the two players the Rangers will watch closely this spring: Engel Beltre and Michael Choice…

Over the next month of exhibitions, a pair of 24-year-old outfielders, born 10 days apart, are likely to lead the Rangers in at-bats.

And there the similarities end.

Engel Beltre, a left-handed hitting prodigy who has been in the system almost seven years, has to go a long way to lose a position. Arlington’s Michael Choice, a right-handed hitter acquired less than seven months ago, has a long way to go to win one.